I want you to turn with me to Ephesians chapter 3. Thank you, Brett, for that testimony. We're going back to Ephesians, we spent last year looking at the whole book of Ephesians. Now, obviously not verse by verse, but we're going to delve into a couple of verses here of chapter 3. We're looking at this theme, "Kingdom Life", and tonight we're looking at "Kingdom Relationship". What's all that about? Well, Ephesians chapter 3:14-15 in the NIV reads: "For this reason", Paul says, "I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name".
Let's pray, and I want you now to pray for yourself. I don't care if you're even an atheist, you don't believe in God - what have you got to lose then? Just pray, see what happens, you might be surprised. But if you're a child of God, and you want God to speak to you (and I imagine that should be the case), just come to Him now and say: 'Lord, please, would You speak to me'. Will you do that?
Father, we give You praise for everything that's gone on tonight. We thank You for the worship that has, we believe, touched Your heart as it has touched ours. We thank You for those who have led us in worship, we thank You for Brett, we thank You for Aaron and Tana and their family, we thank You for Neil and the vision here. Thank You for everything that You're doing. As we said last night, Lord, whatever You're up to, we want to be in it and a part of it. You've said, 'Seek first the kingdom, and I will build my church' - and so Lord, we remove ourselves from trying to build Your church, and we want to be seekers of Your kingdom to allow You to do what You want to do in Your way. We pray that You'll do that tonight, that You'll show up here, and that You'll open our eyes and our hearts to what 'Kingdom Relationship' is with You and with each other. We would ask You to remove blinkers, blockages, whatever is preventing us taking off tonight, we pray, Lord, that You will blow in our sails, and You will have Your way with us all. In Jesus' mighty name we pray, Amen.
Let's just read those two verses again. They're very short, of course, and I want to give you a little bit of Greek here that's in the verses as well: 'For this reason, I kneel before the Father'. The word there in Greek is 'pater': 'I kneel before the Father', Pater, 'from whom every family', the word is 'patrea', 'from whom every family', patrea, 'in heaven and earth derives its name'. Isn't that interesting? Because the very word for 'family', 'patrea', actually is derived from the word 'father', 'pater'. There's a play on words here. 'I kneel before the Pater, the Father, from whom every family, patrea, in heaven and earth derives its name'. Really what Paul is saying, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course, is that God was a Father before creation. Now think about that for a moment: God was Father before creation. I used to have this idea that God called himself 'Father' because we kind of got it, we relate to what a father is, we have had one or we are one - and so we understand, so God takes on a name that we get. But that's not the case at all. We are fathers, or we have fathers, because He is the original and the ultimate Father after whom every family in heaven on earth is named. So, before creation, there was a Father, and there was a Son - and, of course, the Trinity, if you like, is the ultimate family, isn't it?
Psalm 2:6-8 reads like this: 'Yet I have set My King' - and we're talking about the King and the kingdom - 'I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion'. God says: 'I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession'. So right away, you've got there the Father-Son relationship, but it's at the centre of the Messianic declaration: 'I have set My King in Zion'. In the kingdom, God is King, that's obvious - but when Jesus came into the world as the Messiah, He revealed this God King to actually be 'Father'.
Now think about this personally: the King of the whole universe is your Father. Because of Jesus, God can become our Father. When Jesus died for our sins on the cross, was buried, and rose again the third day; He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden where the tomb was. We read in John 20:17 these remarkable words: 'Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God'' - isn't that beautiful? 'To My Father and your Father', and we receive Him as Father when we become children of God. John again, in the same Gospel, chapter 1 verse 12, says: 'As many as received Christ' - that means 'embraced Him, believed in Him, turned from all other things toward Him, and taken Him in by faith as our Saviour' – 'to as many as received Him, to them He gave the right', or the authority, 'to become children of God, to those who believe in His name'. So, it's through this act of turning from sin, turning from self toward God, and believing that Jesus is who He says He is, that we actually get born anew. We come to know God, this great King and Creator, this awesome One, as our Father. Incredible, isn't it?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to God as 'Father', over 100 times. Jesus actually is referred to as 'Son' over 60 times and, of course, if you know anything about the Gospels, you'll know that John has this very intimate relationship with Jesus - and, in fact, he's called 'the disciple whom Jesus loves'. Jesus loves everybody, but there was something special about John's intimacy with the Lord - he kind of saw into the heart of Jesus, and he certainly saw into the heart of the gospel. The heart of the Bible is this kingdom message that we're preaching each night, but the heart of the kingdom message is the message of the Father's heart, the kingdom relationship.
God has always employed the family paradigm as the model for the kingdom. Someone said, 'If God had wanted something besides a family, He would have had us call Him something besides 'Father''. But He taught us to pray - didn't He? - 'After this manner, pray, Our Father, who is in heaven'. Actually, Jesus used, personally Himself, and taught His own disciples to use a very personal term for 'Father', 'Abba'. And 'Abba' is, of course, a Hebrew word for 'Father'; but it's actually an Aramaic word, and it's derived from Aramaic baby-speak, where a baby, when it started to talk, would say: 'Abba' and 'Imma'. 'Imma' which is the equivalent of 'Mama', and 'Abba', 'Dada'. Jesus comes to these very religious Jewish people and tells them to address God in this manner! It'd be like us saying, 'Papa' or 'Daddy', and some folk find this to be over familiarity with Almighty God. I want to say to you tonight: intimacy and reverence are not mutually exclusive. Do you understand? In fact, when you go into a deeper relationship with God, you become more familiar in the right sense, and yet more reverenced - the fear of God is on you even deeper and heavier. When you look at the Lord's Prayer, He's 'Father' before He's 'hallowed' - do you notice that? It's 'Our Father, hallowed be Your name'. This is the centre of the kingdom message, this is the centre of the New Testament: Jesus has come to reveal the Father to us, and to bring us to Him.
So Paul, in Galatians 4:6-7, says: 'Because you are sons', once you've received Christ, 'God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out' - there's this word - ''Abba, Father!'. Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ'. Again, in Romans 8:15, he says: 'For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father''. So I want to ask you tonight: is this kingdom relationship the relationship you have with God? Do you know Him as your Abba, Father? Because it affects everything!
Let me share with you three things it affects. First of all, it affects how we relate to God. You heard the reading from Galatians 4:6-7: 'We're no longer slaves, but we're now sons'. In other words, we're adopted - that means we're not natural sons and daughters born biologically to God, as it were; but it's better than that: we get chosen by Him, just like any adopted child. When it's biological birth, you have to take what you get - isn't that right? But when you're adopted, you get picked, chosen. That's what happens when you come into the kingdom of God: you're accepted for who you are, chosen, drawn, you belong. Yet so many so-called Christians - and I know that's a very broad term - but they live like slaves. They don't live like sons and daughters in the kingdom. They don't have a Father-child relationship with the Lord. It's more like a slave-Master relationship.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 15 please, to a very well-known parable called 'The Parable of the Prodigal Son'. I would like to change that title, because I don't feel it really fits the heart of the message - because really this parable is not so much about the young man who goes AWOL. There's another son in this story, as we'll see in a moment or two, but it's not even about him. It's a story about two sons, but it's ultimately the parable of the father's heart. It's a parable of a prodigal father, who loves his two sons so much, but we get a glimpse of his heart in this parable - and I want you to see the father.
You know the story. Let me summarize it a little bit for you. This young man comes to his father and says: 'Can I have the inheritance?'. In other words, he's saying that he wants his Dad's will before he's dead, which is tantamount to saying 'I wish you were six foot under, so that I can get my hands on your money'. The father doesn't reprimand him, or reject him, he actually gives him what he asked for - that's interesting. But he splits it between the younger boy and the older brother, and that young fellow goes away, it says, into the far country and he wastes his inheritance on prodigal living, riotous, wasteful living, drunkenness, debauchery, prostitution - it's all there. He gets to the point where his friends all left him when his resources are dried up, and he has to go to the low place (remember, these are Jews who are listening to this story) of feeding pigs, feeding swine. He can't even fill his own stomach with the pig food, the farmer won't let him. When he hits rock bottom, he has a moment - you know, those eureka moments - where he realizes that he needs to change his ways and do something about his condition.
This is where we enter the story, verse 19, if you look at it, of chapter 15, verse 18, he says: 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants''. It's as if he's looking in the mirror, if he had a mirror in the pig pen, and he's rehearsing what he's going to say when he gets back to his Dad. He's instinctively feeling: 'I could never be reinstated in the position of a son again, my only hope of anything is to be a slave'. What happens is: he gets back - I'm skipping a little bit here - but it says that his father, look at verse 20: 'He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion' - now, try and fill in the gaps here. We're not adding scripture, but we're asking questions: how did he see him a great way off? The only way he could see him a great way off is if he's watching, and the only way he could be watching - because he didn't know he was going to come back this day, this very hour and minute - was if he was watching every single hour, minute and day since the young fellow turned his back on Dad. So there's the father up there looking for his son, longing to see his son - and when he sees him a great way off, he doesn't wait till he comes back the whole journey and let him sweat it out. He runs! And for that to happen in this ancient Middle Eastern society, this father, this elderly man who is on the housetop, would have to lift his robes (which was undignified), expose his legs and run! We would say 'Run like a wee lad', run into the desert and kiss his son.
Now, the Holy Spirit is wanting to show us something about Father's heart. He is prepared to become, dare I say it, undignified to reach his prodigal. Maybe that's uncomfortable for you? Well, come with me to the cross. This is the Father's heart. How more undignified can you get? Jesus is hanging stark naked, covered in blood and spittle, hanging there for our sins. This is the Father's heart: behold the Father. The wonderful thing here is, verse 21: 'The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son'. But', verse 22, 'the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found''. He interrupts his speech. Imagine God interrupting you? He didn't get the bit out that says, 'Make me one of your hired servants'. No. God wants him to be a son. This is the Father - do you see Him? Do you see the Father as He really is?
I don't know when he came to the point of repentance, this young man. He certainly came to self-realization when he was in the pig pen, but I personally think that he only truly started to repent when he saw the Father's love for him - that brought the fruit of contrition and true transformation. You see that's what the Bible says. It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. It's whenever we understand that Father loves us, and is prepared to send Jesus, and actually come in Jesus. God came in Jesus to die for us.
Reconciliation with the Father comes through true repentance, and we saw last night that one of the things repentance is, is a change of mind. Maybe you're here tonight, and you need to change your mind about what God is really like? Because this kingdom message of the Father-heart of God, it changes how we relate to God. You see this elder brother, he didn't see into father's heart. It's interesting, because he never left father's home. He was in the father's house - like many religious Christians are - but he never saw into the father's heart. If you go down to verse 26, he hears a commotion, music and dancing - imagine that! Verse 26, he calls one of the servants and asks: 'What do these things mean?'. 'And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf'. But he was angry' - do you know any angry Christians? 'He was angry and would not go in' - separatist, would not enter that place. 'Therefore his father came out' - wow! The father is coming out, pleading with him! 'So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends'' - now, who talks to their Dad like that? 'All these years I've been serving you, I never broke any of your rules at any time' - he related to his father as an employee to an employer, not a son to a Dad. This is the way self-righteous religious people relate to God. In fact, this message of the parable was to the Pharisees. These men knew their Bibles, but they didn't know their God when He showed up before them in human flesh. They had legalism. They had laws, but no love. They had rules, but no relationship with God in a deep way. Religious people are so often like this elder brother, they make offense into an art form - and I know, because I was one, and am a recovering Pharisee, probably.
We can treasure our offense, whatever it is, as more valuable than what's going on in God's family and in God's kingdom. I want to call upon you tonight to lay aside your religious offense, whatever that is, in exchange for the Father's love; and join the party of what Abba is doing in His kingdom, and get with the family. That's what this is about. So many, in our country especially, have biblical concepts of God, but still do not personally know intimacy with Him, because they don't enjoy Him as Father. Now why is that? We could spend all night talking about this, but one of the reasons is a wrong teaching about God. We've imbibed harsh, legalistic personas of God, where He's so cold and demanding, a judgmental perfectionist. Now don't misunderstand me, I believe the Bible teaches that there is judgment, there is a place called hell. But there's one day of judgment, and so far there's been thousands of years of grace. So that's the balance that you get with God. He is known to be angry every now and again, but His nature is love, that's what He's commonly known for in the Word of God; and grace, forgiveness, peace.
So many of us have imbibed a scary view of God. He is to be feared in a reverential way, but the fear of God is different from being afraid of God. If you want to know what God's like, just look at Jesus. That's what He came to do, He came to reveal the heart of the Father. So, wrong teaching can affect how we view Father God, but also wrong example. You see, our fathers, our earthly fathers, biological Dads, if they're around, are meant to be a signpost - and our Mums as well - our parents are meant to point towards our Heavenly Dad. But so often they point in the opposite direction, because some of them are absent; some of them are present, yet absent, they're emotionally detached from us; some of them are perfectionists; some of them are controlling; some of them are abusive - and we could go on. But what was your father like, and ask yourself: has that affected your view of God? Have you ever played the word association game? 'Microwave', you think of a word immediately, 'oven'. 'Toothbrush', 'toothpaste', 'couch', 'chair'. 'Father' means so many different things to so many different people, because of the Dads that we've had. 'Father' is not a neutral word. All of us have had biological fathers, but not everyone here tonight has had a Daddy.
This truth of the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus came to reveal Abba Father, it can change your life, it can actually bring healing to the brokenness of the father-wound that you might have, or the mother-wound; but you need to start seeing God as He really is. I'll never forget the time when I had this revelation, and I have had a good Dad in my life, but to know that there is a better Dad! None of us have had perfect Dads, none of us are perfect Dads, but there is a perfect Father in heaven. He wants to be our Father, and He wants to know us as sons and daughters. This is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus said to one of the disciples: 'To see Me is to see the Father'. If you want to know what your Daddy in heaven is like, look at Jesus - and I challenge anyone in this place tonight to be disappointed with Jesus.
But this truth of kingdom relationship, it also transforms how we relate to each other - and this is as big a subject almost, because the kingdom of God is built on the Father-son model. The kingdom is a family business. The Father is extending His family business into all the earth through sons and daughters, not employees, not CEOs, but through His kids. The kingdom will spread and even function properly when it's in this mode of Father-son relationship. When I use the term 'son', I'm using a generic term that includes daughters, OK? This is the way God wants us to relate not only to Himself, but to one another. Even Paul used this paradigm of family, father-son, in how he worked with the early church. First Corinthians 4:14-17 says, Paul: 'I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children' - not 'converts', not even 'disciples' here, but 'children'. 'Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ', or 'instructors', or 'teachers', 'you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son' - not 'my assistant' or 'associate', 'my son' - 'whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church' - do you see it? This is what needs to happen.
We highlighted last night that the church needs to rediscover kingdom life and kingdom truth, we need to move from institutionalization of the church back to kingdom family. We need to move away from professionalism in ministry to actually being fathers and mothers of sons and daughters. This is the model for leadership and for discipleship: the father-son paradigm. Jack Taylor, near the end of his life, said that he wanted his legacy to be this: 'I plan to leave sons, who have sons, who have sons, who have sons, to the edge of eternity, who are discovering the kingdom of God, declaring the kingdom of God, and demonstrating the kingdom of God until Jesus comes'. Amen to that, I love that, don't you? Sons, who have sons, who have sons to the edge of eternity, discovering the kingdom, exploring it; but declaring it, preaching it, demonstrating it in power until Jesus returns - this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached, then the end shall come.
Jesus is coming for a family, not an organization or a religious system, and the kingdom can only be entrusted through family. You see how this kingdom relationship affects how we relate to God, affects how we relate to each other, but also it affects how we relate to the world. Because I want to say that this is a truth for our times, if ever there was one: the Father-heart of God. We live in the fatherless generation, and I don't want anybody to feel stigmatized here tonight, or shamed. But the fact of the matter is that the family, the nuclear family is being attacked, and fatherhood, masculinity, is being attacked like never before. The social crisis of our nation, and indeed our planet, is fatherlessness. There is a fatherhood vacuum in many homes, and in communities around us. There is a crisis of orphanhood - not just literal orphans, but spiritual orphans, people who don't know who their identity is, don't understand their worth, because they don't understand they're made in the image of God, and God wants to father them. This is the reason, by the way, why people try to fill 'the void', as we say. There is an empty space within it that only the Father's love can fill. This is one of the reasons why people go sexually wild in their adolescence and developing years, because they haven't received father's love. It's one of the common reasons, not the only reason, but one of the common reasons: because that part has never been filled. True, pure, tactile affection has never been given by a father, and so they seek this elsewhere, and it's eroticized.
What are you filling the love tank, where Father's love should have been, and an earthly father didn't give that to you, but you've never discovered Heavenly Father, Abba, Father's love - what are you trying to fill it with tonight? I don't need to go through a litany of various sins, you know what it is that you're trying to get a fix from deep down in your heart. Counterfeit affections, addictions, all sorts of moral aberrations. Someone said: 'If you were writing a prescription today for the ills of society and the church, it would be: 'Needs to know the Father and His love''.
Do you know the Father as He really is? Do you know His love deep down in your heart? This is what the world needs to hear. This is what we all need, but this is the message that we have that actually is the answer for the ills of society. We've got it, it's in the kingdom! Jack Frost - I highly recommend his book 'Experiencing the Father's Embrace' - he said: 'Before every major revival, there has been a social crisis in the land'. Study history and you'll see this. 'Then God brings a fresh outpouring of His grace, and begins to meet the needs of that social crisis. He has chosen this season in church history to reveal His affectionate Father's heart'. Wow! That agrees with Scripture, Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, near the very end of that book it says that God will turn the heart of fathers to their children and the heart of children to their fathers. It's this kingdom message, this gospel of the kingdom, and the Father's heart-relationship with us that is doing this across the world. It hasn't really happened much here in Northern Ireland, really, yet. Wherever father's hearts are turned towards anything other than children, this verse continues to say that there will be a curse: 'Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse', Malachi says. A curse can be released on families where father's hearts are turned away from their children and children's hearts are turned away from their fathers. There can be a curse on the family and the land where fathers are not taking their rightful place.
Listen: this is the answer for our aching age and our aching hearts. This is the answer for the church. I remind you that Luke 15, this parable of the prodigal Abba Father, it doesn't conclude for the elder brother - you know, that religious self-righteous guy who was trying his best, who was a good fellow really, but hadn't seen into Daddy's heart. Jesus doesn't conclude it, because He's spinning it out to the Pharisees to basically say: 'It's up to you how the story ends'. Will you still stay out of the party, and will you hug your offense, staying angry, or will you let it all go, and will you dive into what Abba Father is doing, even if it doesn't seem right? Because, can I remind you, Deuteronomy, I think it's chapter 21, is the law of the rebellious son. The law of the rebellious son is an antithesis of the prodigal son, basically; because it's a rebellious guy, but the end result is that he gets stoned. His father and mother dob him in to the elders of the city, and they come out and they stone him to death, because that is what the price of rebellion is, the judgment upon rebellion.
But the judgment of all sin is death. This is why Jesus came to establish grace, to tell us that Father's heart is not that we should be judged by law, but that we should be forgiven, we should be established as sons and daughters, and we should know that there's bread in His house and plenty to spare. So how will the story end for you tonight? Whether you're religious, the older brother; or you're the prodigal, you've done all sorts and you think you've burned your bridges - how's it going to end for you tonight?
Let's pray. I want us to take a few moments. I want to pray for you right now, whatever your situation is. I'm going to ask the Holy Spirit to release the Father's love into your heart. I want you to be prepared for God to do that. It would help if you were in a position to receive that, by being willing to open yourself up to the Lord. Are you? Let me pray for you: Lord, I thank You, Jesus, that You came to reveal Father's heart. Thank You, Abba Father, that You are the most awesome Papa, Daddy, the Holy Father in heaven - but You are the One that we can cry out to like a babe just out of the womb cries, we can give an 'Abba Father' cry through the Spirit of Jesus. We say: Father, we love You, and we thank You that Jesus came to reveal that through dying and rising again; and He's here tonight because He's the King, and this is His kingdom. He wants to pour Your love, Father, by the Holy Spirit, into lives right now. Lord, would You come and do that?
If you're here tonight, and you want to take a step deep into Father's love, will you pray with me now? It's not a mantra or a magic spell or anything like that, there's nothing powerful in the words per se. It's in your heart as you come towards God by faith. Will you pray? Just say these words: 'Father, I come to You in Jesus' name. I thank You that You sent Jesus to die for my sins, so that I could call You 'Father' and know You as my heavenly Dad. I turn from my sins and my selfishness to You and believe that Jesus died for me and You love me, and You want me in Your family. I come to You now. I confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and I ask You to fill me now with the Holy Spirit, that I may live a life that is pleasing to You'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the New Life Conference 2019 in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his Kingdom Life series, titled "Kingdom Relationship" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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